Fears of a celibate woman

I want to share a write up by Koluki on London’s “Black History Month” which featured my friend, Chinwe Azubuike – one of the few people I seriously miss now I am away from London. Chinwe is also an occasional contributor to Black Looks in the past. Koluki’s blog is also one of those I haven’t read for a while so I am glad she left a comment which reminded me to visit.

– A presentation by Chinwe Azubuike, a female contemporary voice from Africa, born in Lagos, Nigeria, who describes herself as a spokeswoman for Nigeria’s deprived class.

This last one was that which touched me the most, not least because it was protagonised by a woman. Throughout the presentation of her campaign denouncing violence against women, specifically against widows in Nigeria, and the performance of some of her poems, I was moved almost to tears at times.

There I was in front of this short, slim, yet strong young lady who, with her short-cut hair – which reminded me of exactly how I used to wear mine (… for that I would either go to a barber’s shop or cut it myself, and sometimes my late partner, who also liked it very much that way, would cut it for me…) when I was about her age and had also just published my humble first, and so far only, book of poems – holding all my attention and emotions, between the gravity and tension of the subjects she is dealing with and the distension and pleasure of a frank smile conveying to her audience the idea that suffering and healing are facts of life: the first being inflicted upon us by others (and sometimes by ourselves), the second being brought about by our conscious decision to stop both the causes and the consequences of that suffering.

Fears Of A Celibate Woman

The selfish lust of man
Has
earned him my doubt and distrust.

With this vast body of desires,
I
feel forsaken

Who is fit to uncross my twisted legs
And throw them
wide apart?
For my core is burning

Oh! You knight in shining Armour,
Come and prove me wrong.

She followed the paused, pulsating, reflexive (and reflective) reading of each poem (just as I would read my own) by a short explanation – something that I never did with mine, either verbally or in writing (except of late with some I’ve published on this blog), because it is my belief that poetry either succeeds at being self-explanatory or is innefective. She also somehow concurred to this assertion by saying after the first reading that it “probably wasn’t fair to do that as the author should just leave it to the audience to make sense of the poem.” However, in doing so, she was also implicitly acknowledging something that I have experienced myself: the risk of our poems’ intended message being lost in “the senses” (translation … transliteration… prejudgements… prejudices… meaning… projection … association… appropriation…) the audience, or the reader (not to mention the, often reckless, critics…), may discretionarily attach to them – but then, that’s the gamble inherent to poetry writing, especially that of the symbolic kind, isn’t it?

To The Memories Of Homage

I still remember the duty your
lips pay
left and right as you walk
down the aisle of people back in
motherland

The responses of women
with wrappers wrapped high above
their breasts
busy, bustling with wares to be assembled for an early sale
in the glowing warmth of the morning sun
They never forget to respond~
with the chewing sticks stuck in their mouths
They never forget to call
out your name
even before a salute leaps out of your lips

I still
remember the sequential interference
of greetings that stops you in your
track
to enquire the fate of your house-hold
and livestock if you
possess any
At times irritating, but all in good faith
by well meaning
hearts and acts of brotherliness

I remember the rebukes your
unintentional mind attracts
from those who surpass your age when morals
evade you
The slogan says ‘it is not love’
yet we engaged in it without
ceasing
it gave and earned us respect

So whenever I see familiar
faces here
who avert their eyes,
I wonder what they think salutation
depicts.

Well, at the end I took the opportunity to thank Chinwe for her beautifully crafted poems and to briefly say how much the underlying themes of both her poetry (e.g. the loss of her father, celibacy, or the sense of solitude and isolation in the diaspora with that permanent longing for echoes of the motherland in each of our smiles lost in those on the streets or at bus stops we momentarily think might be one of our own but really don’t want to know us) and her campaign (the ritual – both symbolic and physical – humiliation, moral degradation and prosecution of widows in Nigeria) were so close to some of my own life experiences.

I also shared with her and the rest of the audience the trials of widows in Southern Africa (particularly those in countries most affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the region) which are very similar to those she described as happening in Nigeria, albeit for different reasons and in differing cultural settings, and how, for example, the passing of the 2005 Family Law in Mozambique (see details here and here) was a significant landmark in addressing some of these issues and their root causes.

But throughout, perhaps the only thing I really wanted to tell her but didn’t muster was something along the lines “do you know that there are women who are deprived even of the right to widowhood?”

– While looking up on the net for some more information about Chinwe, who also forms part of Exiled Writers Ink, a collective of artists and writers, I found out that she was featured earlier this year at my good friend Sokari’s Black Looks;

– I also visited the website of one of the organisations to which her campaign is linked, which also works with partners and associations of widows in countries where widowhood is a problem in terms of human rights abuses, discrimination, marginalisation, poverty and violence, such as Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, Angola, The Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda, Widows For Peace Through Democracy – where I came across an organisation which might be worth exploring just for its name: The Organisation of Strong Women who Live Alone .